Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Myanmar rising

“This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about.”—Rudyard Kipling. I nodded in agreement when I came across Rudyard Kipling’s famous quote about Burma in his Letters from the East. Describing Myanmar, also known as Burma, as unique is an understatement. After all, this is a fascinating multi-ethnic nation that’s waiting to be brought to its full potential.

I came to Myanmar last March as part of the East-West Center’s 2014 Jefferson Fellowship Program. Even though the goal of the trip was to show us how Myanmar is taking steps to open its doors to the global community, we were told not to keep our expectations up. My group (composed of foreign journalists from US, Pakistan, India, China, Taiwan, and Indonesia) was warned that our credit cards, ATM cards and mobile phones may not even work here. We were even told to carry bug spray or any mosquito repellant as precaution against dengue.

So awe was the last thing I expected to feel the moment our plane touched down the Mingaladon Airport in Yangon. As our service coach traversed along Yangon’s major roads, we were taken aback by the lush landscape and green parks around the city. When we passed by the Kandawgyi Lake, one of the two major lakes in Yangon, we couldn’t help but bring out our smart phones and capture the magnificent view of the Karaweik Palace.

Burma wasn’t part of my bucket list or my friends’ but anyone who had visited the country would see that it is worth consideration. Personally, I was jubilant to finally see Yangon and Naypyidaw, two of its prominent cities, because it offered a moment’s respite from the hustle and bustle of congested cities like Manila. True, it lacks the sophistication of megacities of Japan, China, and neighboring Asian countries, but that added to its appeal to foreign nomads, stricken with wanderlust.

That evening, we had dinner at the Burmese royal barge Karaweik Palace. It was a night to remember as we enjoyed Burmese and Asian cuisine while being entertained by traditional Burmese folk dance.

The next day, we toured Shwedagon Pagoda, which we were told is a must for religious fanatics or those who simply want to gain some insight into Myanmar’s religious beliefs. Burmese locals consider the Pagoda as a holy place as it is the resting spot of the relics of the three Buddhas. Buddhism is a prominent religion in Myanmar, as is Hinduism. Though there are many Buddhist temples scattered around the country, Shwedagon remains to be the most popular among first-timers.

Yangon’s clean and idyllic landscape is a. The laidback and exotic atmosphere added to the charm and magical vibe of the Buddhist and Hindu temples around the capital. Parks I visited like the Inya Lake and the Kandawgyi Nature Park where the magnificent Karaweik Palace stands grand, were not crowded. In Naypyidaw, where the Parliament and government offices are located has its share of interesting parks and museums and hotels, hardly has any people strolling its grounds.

From Yangdon, we packed our bags and travelled to Naypyidaw for a one-day trip. The city is 30 minutes away by plane. There, we got to see the Hluttaw Pyidaungsu, Myanmar’s Parliamentary building and the Uppatasanti Pagoda, Naypyidaw’s version of the Shwedagon. The eight-lane roads and beautiful, multi-level flower–covered roundabouts left us marveling at modern Burmese architecture and engineering.

Given the current political climate in the country, Myanmar is undoubtedly facing monumental challenges. But changes are already coming in this once isolated nation. One of the obvious signs of Myanmar’s awakening is the number of newsstands you’ll see in the streets of Yangon. Malls, restaurants, supermarkets, golf courses, hotels, resorts and other high-end establishments have also mushroomed in and around Yangdon, attracting more and more tourists. If you want to sharpen their bargaining skills, hie off to Bogyoke market where you can buy authentic jade and good quality Burmese souvenirs. And contrary to their earlier warning, we were able to use credit cards during our stay.

When we concluded our trip, I was optimistic that, five to ten years from now, Myanmar will eventually surprise the world with a new face. As one entrepreneur quipped—“We just woke up from a coma, but now we’re wide awake.” The stakes are high. Change, is after all, the only thing constant in this world.

source: Yahoo News
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